Warning: All subsequent reviews for this series may contain spoilers for earlier novels in the series.
Stephanie Plum is back. For those unfamiliar with the lead character in this eighth book about her, Stephanie is a lingerie buyer who was down on her luck after losing her job. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and she turned to her cousin, Vinnie, for a job. Vinnie happens to be a bail bondsman and gives Stephanie a job bringing in bail-jumpers. Along the way readers have been treated to a variety of crazy and quirky characters, insights into the love life of a Jersey girl, and mysteries that unravel with a little skill and a lot of luck. In Hard Eight, Stephanie once again needs luck on her side, but she also turns her personal life upside down.
This time, Stephanie’s not pursuing a failure to appear, really. The granddaughter of a neighbor of her parents has gone missing. With no one else to turn to and her house on the line, Mabel asks Stephanie to look for them. There are suspects abounding as it could be the woman’s ex-husband or a psychotic landlord. Soon Stephanie is being stalked by two men, one in a rabbit suit and another in a bear suit.
As if that’s not enough, Stephanie’s in a downtime in her relationship with a local vice cop, Joe Morelli. The two have taken a break, and that’s the perfect time for the mysterious Ranger to make his move. Ranger’s a professional bounty hunter who’s sort of taken Stephanie under his wing. He’s been around her life from the beginning, but the last few books have been building toward something more than her mentor. With Joe out of the picture, at least temporarily, it’s the perfect time for both he and Stephanie to let down their guard…
As if all that isn’t enough, the ongoing saga of Stephanie’s relatives keeps on going. While Grandma Mazur’s quirkiness might have gotten a bit played out, Evanovich has compensated by bringing in Stephanie’s “perfect” sister, Valerie, who’s having a hard time getting and/or keeping a job and dealing with the emotional fallout from her failed marriage. She’s moved in with their parents (and Grandma) and brought along her own two daughters who seem to mirror what she and Stephanie were like when they were younger.
What Evanovich does well here and has generally done well throughout the series is to create a good blend of ongoing characters and new characters. The ongoing characters generally move forward nicely, especially Stephanie in regard to her relationships and her family. The characters of Lula and Connie (who work for her cousin Vinnie) are suffering from a bit of stagnation, but they do serve the purpose to act as Stephanie’s gal pals when needed. The bad guys are really bad here, but in some ways are a carbon-copy of a villain from earlier in the series. Even though there’s a tie between the two characters, it’s not enough that it should justify the similar behavior, especially in regard to our heroine.
While there are coincidences like this, I didn’t feel as if there were the forced situations in Hard Eight that I saw in other books of the series. Too many times when Stephanie needs information, she has a “good friend” or relative at a particular government agency or company who can get it for her. That didn’t seem too prevalent here which was a nice break. Instead, however, Evanovich brought back another character as a bail-jumper Stephanie is pursuing, and it just doesn’t work. Stephanie doesn’t come off as simply bumbling and lovable, but more like a complete idiot. An ongoing joke is how many cars she loses throughout the books. How many times will she leave the keys in the car and have them taken from her because of “Oops, I forgot the keys” and she watches the bad-guy drive away in it? The first time it was funny, but it’s getting a bit hard to believe that she’s not at least learning from her mistakes. How many times will she refuse Morelli’s offer of help (or Ranger’s for that matter) and end up in worse peril because of that?
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Hard Eight, but it just didn’t seem as good as the other books of the series. Parts of it were too much a direct copy of other stories, while others just didn’t draw me in as they should. There was a lot more focus on the protagonist’s personal life than the mystery at hand, and even as it unraveled it was almost like I didn’t care and was more interested in seeing which man took her home at the end.
This was a weak link in the series for me, but not so bad I would tell anyone to stop reading the series because of it. To really get a good sense of what’s going on and our gal’s history, readers would be better off starting from the first book although Evanovich does give something of a re-cap in each of the books. I would definitely not recommend starting the series with Hard Eight as it’s not the strongest one of the series. I’m hoping the themes pick up a bit in the next book and I want to get back into the character as much as I did in the beginning.
Previous book in the series (link): Seven Up by Janet Evanovich
Next book in the series (link): Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich